SEATTLE — A year ago, the Seattle Mariners probably don’t win this game.
Last season’s Mariners finished last in the American League in runs scored for a reason. Their offense had little potential of making a game out of a 7-2 third-inning deficit.
It’s a little different now. The Seattle offense is a far from a perfect entity, but it has shown the ability to score runs in bunches, usually via the home run. And the Mariners displayed it again Wednesday, erasing that five-run deficit in two innings, highlighted by a six-run fifth inning in a 9-7 win against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“We had our backs against the wall,” Mariners acting manager Robby Thompson said. “But there was a lot of game to play. They kept their heads up. We’ve had that happen to us this season. I’d like to think we returned the favor. I’m proud of the guys.”
The come-from-behind win staved off a potential sweep, much to the disappointment of a largely pro-Toronto crowd of 34,792 at a sun-drenched Safeco Field.
How did Seattle do it?
“We just told each other it’s early in the ballgame and keep putting guys on base,” said first baseman Justin Smoak. “We did that and got the big hits when we needed them.”
The reason they needed all those big hits was another lackluster outing from starting pitcher Aaron Harang. The veteran right-hander didn’t make it out of the third inning.
Pitching with a 2-0 lead, Harang gave up five runs in the second. He walked the first two batters he faced that inning and later gave up a one-out RBI single to Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie. Harang then walked second baseman Mark DeRosa and allowed a ground-rule double to catcher Josh Thole to score two more runs. He surrendered another run on a ground out and the final run of the inning on Emilio Bonifacio’s RBI bunt single.
With the score 5-2, the Mariners were reeling.
Then, in the third inning, Harang gave up back-to-back solo home runs to Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind.
Thompson had seen enough and called on long-reliever Brandon Maurer. Harang was credited with two innings pitched, and charged with seven runs on five hits with three walks and no strikeouts.
“I’m going to sit down with (pitching coach) Carl (Willis) this week and look over some things,” Harang said. “Mechanically, I’ve just been feeling kind of off. Hopefully, it’s just something little and we can get me back on the right track.”
With two straight sub-par starts and Harang failing to pitch more than five innings in four of his past five outings, the question of place in the starting rotation is certainly looming.
Thompson didn’t have much to say about it.
“I can’t answer that right now,” Thompson said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s still in the rotation.”
While a five-run rally isn’t as improbable for this Mariners offense as it might have been for last year’s version, how they did it was surprising.
They scored a run in the fourth inning off starter J.A. Happ and changed the entire game in the fifth with a six-spot.
It started off innocently enough when Nick Franklin reached second on Lawrie’s misplayed grounder to third. From there, Kyle Seager singled and Kendrys Morales hit a ground-rule double to score Franklin. Happ walked Michael Morse and was lifted for fellow left-hander Aaron Loup.
Loup didn’t stop the bleeding. Michael Saunders drove in a run on a fielder’s choice to cut it to 7-5.
Smoak, a switch-hitter batting right-handed, then lashed a double to the gap that missed being a home run by a few inches, slamming off the wall in left-center field. Two runs scored to tie the game.
“Off the bat, I thought it was a line drive,” Smoak said. “I didn’t even know it hit the wall. If you hit it out there, you have to hit it.”
The normally laid-back Smoak exploded with emotion and a fist pump at second base.
“I don’t even know what I did, but I was pretty pumped up,” Smoak said.
That Smoak hit it from the right-side was another good sign in his breakout season. He’d been struggling. Those were his second and third runs batted in from that side of the plate.
“It’s been feeling better lately,” Smoak said.
The Mariners then took the lead moments later when Humberto Quintero blasted a two-run homer into the visiting bullpen. It was his second homer for the Mariners since being signed on July 27.
“I’d never faced him,” Quintero said of Loup. “He threw a 3-1 pitch in and I hit it good.”
Lost in all of the excitement of the nine runs scored was the redemptive performance of the much-maligned Mariners bullpen.
Thompson used four relievers and they didn’t allow a run after replacing Harang in the third inning.
Maurer (3-7) came on and pitched three scoreless innings, despite giving up three hits and walking five batters, to pick up the win in relief. He got plenty of help from left-hander Charlie Furbush, who cleaned up Maurer’s mess in the sixth. Furbush came in with bases loaded and one out. He coolly struck out Adam Lind and got Colby Rasmus to ground out to end the inning.
“My job is come in there and limit the damage,” Furbush said. “I’m just trying to get that first strike and take it one pitch at a time.”
Seattle worked out of a minor spot in eighth. Yoervis Medina, who’d pitched a scoreless seventh, allowed runners to reach first and second with two outs. But Oliver Perez came in and got a broken bat ground out from Rasmus.
Danny Farquhar pitched a scoreless ninth inning to get his third save in as many opportunities.
“Great job by the bullpen,” Thompson said. “That’s a huge pick-me-up for the whole ballclub and Aaron Harang.”